An occasional late night and early morning start is fine for most teenagers. But what happens when teens consistently don’t get enough zzzs?
They end up sleep deprived, which may lead to physical and mental health issues and impact how well they learn in school.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a policy statement recommending middle and high schools push back start times to 8:30 a.m. or even later to better align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents.
“My experience as a sleep medicine provider is that teens are especially prone to sleep deprivation since their body clocks tend to run later as they move through adolescence,” said Dr. Jyoti Krishna, director of Akron Children’s sleep center. “We still don’t fully understand those sleep mechanisms but we do know that it happens.”
A person’s “body clock” is one way to describe the internal mechanism, made up of both biological and psychological factors, which influences when someone feels tired and how much sleep he needs.
Sleep researchers call this 24-hour body clock cycle “circadian rhythms.” As preteens move through puberty their circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycles, shift up to 2 hours later. As a result, teens get sleepy later at night and have more difficultly waking up early in the morning.
A National Sleep Foundation poll found most high school seniors reported an average of 6.9 hours of sleep each night, whereas the recommended amount is 8.5 to 9.5 hours on school nights. Add up night after night of less shuteye and high school seniors miss nearly 12 hours of much needed sleep over the course of a week.
6 ways to improve your teen’s sleep
No matter your adolescent’s school start time, there are ways to encourage her to get more sleep.
Dr. Krishna suggests that parents consider the following tips to help teens get closer to the recommended amount of sleep:
- Talk to your teen about time management, especially when it comes to school assignments and homework
- Review a teen’s extracurricular activity schedule to see if he may be overscheduled
- Avoid afternoon naps
- Avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon and especially close to bedtime, since it can disrupt sleep patterns
- Keep a regular schedule on weekdays and weekends
- Limit media so teens aren’t texting, gaming and going online near bedtime or when they should be sleeping
“Some of these changes may be difficult, but when your teens are getting more sleep they’ll also notice they’re more efficient with what they need to get done during the day, like homework,” said Dr. Krishna. “I definitely feel for the kids since I’m not an early riser. I think a later school start time could have some real benefits for teens.”